Tort reform to ballot; Arkansas Works freeze advances

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 480 views 

The Arkansas Senate voted to place a constitutional amendment for tort reform before the voters in November 2018 on Wednesday, while the Arkansas House advanced a measure that would ban new enrollees in Arkansas Works, the program that uses federal Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance for lower-income Arkansans.

The vote for the tort reform measure was 20-11 with four not voting. Senate Joint Resolution 8 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, would limit punitive damages to the greater of $500,000 or three times the compensatory judgment, noneconomic damages to $500,000, and attorneys’ contingency fees to one-third of the judgment. It also would give the Legislature increased oversight over the Arkansas Supreme Court’s procedural rules.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives passed House Bill 1465, the Medicaid Expansion Enrollment Freeze Act of 2017 by Rep. Josh Miller, R-Heber Springs, which would freeze enrollment in Arkansas Works on or after July 1. Those who are currently enrolled would be eligible for renewals.

The Department of Human Services would file waivers with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Those waivers would be needed for House Bill 1465 to take effect.

The vote was 55-32, with 13 not voting. The measure now goes to the Senate.

First created in 2013 and now known as the private option, the program’s enrollment was projected to be 250,000 but instead has reached 330,000. The federal government has been paying virtually all of the costs, but the state in 2017 begins to pick up 5% of the cost, a number that progressively rises to 10% by 2020.

Miller and Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, argued on the House floor that the state’s percentage could climb higher – possibly to the state’s traditional match of 30% for Medicaid programs, Miller said.

“I don’t know of a single Republican in here that ran on the message of continuing to expand Obamacare in Arkansas,” Miller said.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson opposes the bill and will soon unveil a plan for reforming Arkansas Works, including a work requirement and lowering the threshold from the current 138% of the federal poverty level to 100%, said his spokesman, J.R. Davis.

“The governor’s always preferred true reform to the program as opposed to something like a cap,” he said. “A cap does not fix the problem. It basically sort of just puts a band-aid on it, and it has unintended consequences.”

Davis said Miller’s bill would deny care to people, creates no incentives to work, and would cost money and take months to implement.